An Awesome Night at the Hotel Cafe

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably saw me pushing info on the Tongue and Groove reading that happened last night at the Hotel Cafe. It’s a monthly event hosted by Conrad Romo. It has officially become my new favorite literary event here in Los Angeles, and not just because I got to stand up on stage and be a part of it.

First of all, the venue is super cool. You’ve probably driven past it and not even noticed, because you have to go down a dark alley to get there. It has a certain speak easy vibe about it. If you ever have cause to check it out, you definitely should.


But for me, the real excitement was being a part of the reading. The list of people who have been a part of this is like a who’s who of my local literary heroes, including Janet Fitch, Rita Williams, and David Frances. And after last night, I have to add Jeremy Radin. He read a handful of poems that were stunning. By far the best poetry I’ve ever heard live. Such incredible use of language, evocative imagery and honest humility is rare, especially in LA.

So it felt pretty great to be included. For my part, I’m also excited to share that for the first time, I actually had fun doing a reading. I haven’t done all so many, granted, but this was the first time that the fun outweighed the nerves. Partly it was because the piece I read (a piece titled “Butts”) is an irreverent little story, partly is was the super-cool venue, and partly it was that I had a small cheering section (thanks guys!). It was a great night.

And before I sign off, I have to give a big thanks to Janet Fitch, who introduced me to Conrad in the first place, and encouraged me to submit the story for consideration. She has been, and continues to be, an awesome mentor (and her new book should be coming out soon – I can’t wait!).

The next Tongue and Groove event is on December 8. I won’t be able to make that one, as the Rock Lake Writers Christmas party is that night, but I will catch up in the new year. Hope to see you there!

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Nerd Word of the WeeK: Elide

Elide – To omit (a sound or syllable) when speaking. As in: When my daughter was four she elided the “s” at the beginning of words. She would say “I want to wear my kirt to kool today.”

ElideThe story behind this one is that we had a nanny from El Salvador, and apparently in El Salvador, it is quite common to elide the “s” sound at the beginning of words. Since Celeste spent so much time with Linda, she adopted her accent, and it carried over to her English.

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Watch Me Turn Red

I know I am not alone in the fact that reading my work in front of crowds makes me nervous. I know this. But knowing it doesn’t make it any easier. Whenever I am faced with the exciting opportunity to read my work for a group of people I start sweating like I’m running a marathon in July.

So it’s no great surprise to me that I’m feeling a little damp in the pits. In less than a week, I will be standing up on a stage to read a short piece I wrote titled “Butts.”

Yes, “Butts.”

Over the years I have gotten better at readings, but this piece was an exercise in voice. I dug deep to find my whitest white trash roots and pour them out onto the page. It’s rude, it’s blunt, and it uses more than one word for male genitalia that I don’t think I ever say out loud, let alone in front of a large crowd.

It’ll be fun.

All I can say is thank God my parents live too far away to attend this one.

Click below for event details.

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Southern California – the Book

Check it out – a book I helped write is coming out soon:

EyeMuse Books

The publisher, Elisa Parhad, was a neighbor of mine for many years. When I met her, she was working on the very first of her EyeMuse Books travel series – a book on New Mexico. It’s a great concept for a travel book. She doesn’t write the usual travel stuff about where to eat, sleep and stuff your face. Instead, she’s created a sort of pocket-sized coffee table book. The whole idea is that when we travel to new places we see new things (that is, for many people, WHY we travel to new places). But there’s no convenient way to learn about the curious/strange/delicious new things you might encounter. Not unless you’re traveling with a local. That’s the niche these books fill.

For instance, if you were traveling in New Mexico, you might see this figure hanging about:


And you might ask yourself: what is up with that guy? Well, if you had the New Mexico book handy, you could learn all about him. (Click here for info on where to get a copy.) The book has 100 structures, crafts, traditions, foods and more that are specific to New Mexico, each with a concise, entertaining description like you might get from a local.

Anyhow, when she told me, way back when, that she was planning to do Southern and Northern California as the second and third books in the series, I pretty much wouldn’t leave her alone until she let me play.

I spent most of my time for Elisa working on book number three – Northern California, due out after Southern California. It was so much fun to write. I thought I knew Northern California, having spent the majority of my life there, but I learned so much. (Check out this post for a small sampling.)

Anyhow, both Southern and Northern California were a bit delayed while Elisa was busy having a couple beautiful baby boys, but the wait is over!

Check out the EyeMuse Books Facebook page for information on how to order, or sign up over there on the right to be added to my mailing list and I’ll let you know when and where you can get your copy.

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Just Because I Don’t Get Paid, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Work

I was chatting with a friend the other day. He’s all stressed out because he works too much and his baby girl (poor thing) was super sick. I told him I was planning on taking Labor Day weekend to work on my novel and he replied: “I vaguely remember having time for hobbies.”

Picture me as a cat, bristling and hissing.

Here’s a tip, for those of you who have friends who aspiring at anything – don’t refer to their work as a hobby.

I am willing, for the sake of our friendship, to chalk that comment up to his exhaustion, but my writing is not a hobby. Just because I don’t get paid, doesn’t mean it’s not work. In fact, one *might* argue that not getting paid shows an even greater commitment to one’s art, though I’ve never subscribed to the whole as-soon-as-you-make-money-at-it-you’re-a-sellout-not-an-artist thing. I’m not OPPOSED to getting paid, it’s just that, right now, fiction is not paying the bills.

I suppose I would accept the term “amateur” over “hobbyist,” though I do get paid as a professional technical writer. Using a sports analogy, I’m like an aspiring Olympic gymnast who helps kids on the balance beam during the day. Only I don’t have a coach, and I’m not getting any exercise, and it’s much harder to tell if I’m sticking my landings.

I’m a writer, damn it.

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Novel Update

I’ve been blogging a lot about things other than my novel lately, so it seems it’s time for an update. For anyone who hasn’t been following along, I’m working on a novel about an ostrich farmer. Her name is Tallulah Jones. She inherits the farm from her grandfather when he passes away. This much has remained constant, but every other detail of the story has changed, then changed again, then changed again. I’ve been working on this bitch for about 7 years. And when I say “working on” I mean actually working on. Some writers talk about working on their novel, and then write a few pages when they feel inspired. I don’t believe in inspiration.

I get up almost every morning at 5am to write before my kids wake up. I have been working my ass off, and so it is with no small amount of frustration that I admit that I am 7 years in and going back to my outline. But that is the truth.

These days, I cling to the hope that with each draft I am getting closer to the core of what this story is, and with each passing year I am becoming a better writer. I must be getting better. The idea that I could do something so consistently for so long and not get better is too upsetting to even consider.

The other thing that gives me hope is that this new outline is actually not entirely new. I simply decided to start the story sooner. The beginning of my last draft will now be the mid-point, and starting so much earlier, I have a lot more room to develop the characters. I like the story more and more, even as I become increasing sick of working on it.

So that’s the haps on the novel. I have a writing retreat planned for Labor Day weekend. I’m hoping to have the outline nailed down before that, and to start drafting then. I’m hoping that I can keep 50,000 words of the old draft (might be optimistic), and I’m shooting for about 100,000 words total. I write 500 words a morning, so that’s 100 mornings. Six mornings a week is 16 weeks. With any luck, I might just finish a draft before the end of the year.

Of course, holidays and junk always get in the way, but if I can stay focused on the goal, I think I could do it.
I’ll keep you posted.

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Updating My Dreams

As I mentioned a couple weeks back, I have officially made the decision to let go of working as a freelance writer ever again. I love my job, I only work four days a week, which leaves me some solid time on Mondays to work on my fiction, and I get a regular, totally respectable paycheck.

I’ve been sitting with this choice for a few weeks, and am more and more comfortable with it. I don’t know why it took so long to realize what a good set up I’ve managed to land myself in. And I’m so glad I did realize before I did something drastic. Sometimes, when the writing isn’t going well, I get a little crazy.

Anyhow, I noticed a couple days ago that my dream board needed updating. Don’t laugh, I have a dream board. I give full credit to my hippie parents, who are big on visualizing outcomes. Besides, if Oprah does it (and she does), then there must be something to it because that woman is amazing. I mean seriously. How cool is it that she puts herself on the cover of her magazine every month? I love that shit.

So the dream board. I made it about year ago. It has the cover of my novel (or at least a hand-drawn version of how I see it looking), and the next, and some tiny little fake checks made out to me from fancy publishing agencies. It had the covers of all the magazines I was going to write for with mockups of the articles I was going to write (with my byline of course). It had a little drawing of me and Daniel and the kids flying off to some exotic place on one of my writing assignments.

Well, half of it was still good. The other half needed to change. And I had a few free minutes (yeah, being done with all that wedding craziness!), so I grabbed some scissors and glue and went to it. When she saw what I was doing my daughter asked: Don’t you want to travel with us anymore? And I said: Of course I do, but not for work. Which reminded me to grab a travel magazine I had been reading and add it to my pile of supplies.

Here’s how it came out:
Writer's Dream Board

You’ll see three book covers there. The Feathered Tale of Tallulah Jones, Book 2 (I have a title but don’t like it), and the Northern California book, which I’m told WILL some day be published. I also left one article. I have, ever since I received Issue #1 in the mail years ago, dreamed of writing a Spin The Globe piece for Afar magazine. If you don’t know that magazine, you should totally check it out. Best travel mag going. You’ll also see an outline for my third novel with a SOLD tag on it. The fine print dictates a bidding war and a seven-figure sale price.

The best change is that I got rid of all that extra freelance business and wallpapered the board with travel images: Great Barrier Reef, Zion, Yellowstone, mountain biking, SCUBA diving, hiking. These are the things I want most outside of work. Adventures with my family. And the coolest thing of all? Even if I don’t make seven figures on any of my books, I have a steady job that allows me to save up for these kind of vacations.

In short, I’m feeling pretty good about my choices lately. I hung the new board over my dresser and see it every day. My folks, and Oprah, say there’s power in that.

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Ditching the Laptop: FAIL

If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve been experimenting with the possibility of ditching the laptop and sticking with just my iPad.

The backstory is that when I started my last job (back in 2011), the company bought me a computer. At that point I gave my laptop, which was getting pretty old anyway, to my mom. Then, when I left that job and took this new job, I had to return the “new” computer. My sister-in-law had just bought a new laptop, so she was good enough to let me borrow her old computer, but it was super slow (which is why she got a new one).

Because it was so slow, I was using my iPad more and more for everything, and finally I decided to try making it my main computing device. Well, I can officially report now that the experiment has failed.

MacBook Air

There’s something so pretty about a new computer. All fresh and clean and full of potential. Like you could do anything with it. And it’s so fast. And it’s almost as light as the iPad, if not as compact. And I didn’t realize how much I missed the full-sized keyboard.

So, that’s that. It was a worthwhile experiment, but I just couldn’t make the iPad work like I wanted it to. I need to be able to jump around, from research to writing to email. There’s a fluidity that the laptop has that (at least so far) the iPad can’t match.

Onward and upward!

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Taking the Leap to Fiction

I have long held to the idea that the greatest tragedy in life is that it is so short. This world is so big, and so full of strange and wonderful things, that I am often struck with a sense of overwhelming loss at the idea that I will only experience a minuscule portion of it. It’s the reason I exercise and why I quit smoking. If I can buy myself even a few more years on this planet, to explore the vast array of sights, sounds, and tastes it has to offer, I’ll do whatever it takes.

This has often lead me over-commit myself. I take on too many projects because I get excited about new opportunities. I know I do, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. Ever since I took this new job, freelance jobs have been coming out of the woodwork – go figure. Good, high-paying gigs have just landed in my lap, and I’ve had to hand them off to other writers I know because I simply don’t have time to do the work.

This has made me think seriously about going back to freelance. I like the flexibility and the diversity of the projects. I even took one of the jobs, writing for a new phone app that I can’t really tell you about yet except to say that it aligns with my travel writing. (I’ll tell you all about it once they launch.)

This little side gig is fun. It’s interesting. It’s a break from the norm and chance to try something new, which is always a draw for me. But it was due two days ago, and I’m going to spend all day today wrapping it up (today, which was supposed to be a day of fiction writing), and in the end, for the amount of time I will spend on it, the pay is a lot less than I’m making at my job.

Freelance work can be great, but it requires constant hustling for the next job, and it often doesn’t pay for shit. And all that has shifted my thinking yet again. The question came to me: what if I never go back to freelance – ever? What if I just put that out of my head entirely? What if I get up in the morning, write, go to work, maybe even write on my lunch break, and use my Mondays to write my novel instead of dicking around with little freelance jobs? That was why I negotiated to have Mondays off in the first place. I wanted more time for my fiction, but I keep getting distracted, and then frustrated because I’m not making more progress on the novel.

When I look at it like this, it feels stupidly simple. Focus. Cut out all the distractions and just focus on what matters most to me: time with my family and time to work on my fiction. It would be foolish to quit a job that pays me so well to do what I love. I think now is a time to stay the course and focus on my fiction.

One time, when I was in grad school, Janet Fitch said to me: “If you’re thinking of writing anything but fiction, just stop.” At the time I smiled and thanked her for the vote of confidence, and even though I wrote that on a post-it note and stuck it over my desk, I kind of ignored it. I don’t know why. I think it’s because it’s kind of scary committing to fiction. It’s an art, and being an artist is hard. It invites criticism, and requires vulnerability in a way that being a travel writer does not. Honestly, nobody is ever going to critique my work on this travel app.

So this is me, the fiction writer, deciding to make the leap. If you are in need of a good freelancer, please feel free to drop me a line – I know lots of good writers, but as for me, from now on, I’ll be writing fiction.

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Back From Portland, Writing Again

I don’t know who I was kidding, thinking I would have time to blog on the day before my sister’s wedding. There were nails to be painted, napkins to be folded, family to be picked up from the airport and so, so much more. We were busy well into the night, and then, because I am a saint and offered to watch my sister’s kiddos the night before the wedding, I was up at 5am with the baby. But I regret nothing! (This seems to be evolving into a catch phrase for me.)




It was such a good time. My sis looked stunning, and she and her hubby were so happy.  I’m so grateful to all the friends and family who came together to make it a grand affair. Thank you all!

And now I’m back. It’s Monday. I woke at 5am to try to get back to my regular schedule – it’s always really difficult after a break, but I am wrapping up a final polish on the short I’ve been working on – the twenty or so pages I cut from my last draft of the novel. It still needs an ending, but it’s close. I’m hoping to wrap that up today and send it off to the writing group for a fine tooth comb review.

Then it’s back to the novel. I don’t know if I’ve shared where I’m at with it. After getting feedback on the last draft I’ve decided to add about 100 pages to the beginning, so I’m working on an outline of those new pages. And by “working on” I mean I’ve been doing anything but for the last two months. It’s time to get serious. The good news is that the pages I have won’t need to change much. We’ll see. I’m feeling a little daunted, and a lot tired, but this is what separates the real artists from the amateurs, right? Hanging in there for one more pass, because it’s not done and I know it, even though I’m totally sick of it and really, more than anything, just want to declare it done and move one.

Lastly, before I say goodbye, I promised an update on how things are going with my effort to ditch the laptop and go all iPad, all the time. After about a month, I have to say the jury is still out.


  • Portability
  • Speed (this baby is way faster than my ancient laptop)
  • Cost (the $90 I dropped on the keyboard is way cheaper than a new MacBook)


  •  I’m still getting used to the tiny keyboard (though it’s getting easier and easier, I don’t feel relaxed using it yet).
  • Compatibility (I still haven’t figure out how to easily share things I write in Pages or Google Docs – at least for things like submissions to journals, where they need a pdf of the doc).
  • Ease of navigation, both in any given document (anything over 20 pages is a pain to navigate) and also between apps. I’m the kind of person who keeps a lot of windows open for research while I’m writing. With the iPad I have to close out of an app to open another, and there is a lag time.

So I don’t know. This little experiment may yet flop. I may be forced to bite the bullet and buy a new laptop. But I’m not giving up yet. It may just take a little more time to get used to a new way of operating.

Well see…




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